Jim Hickey, noting that it is odd given his long history in the game, came into camp with the Washington Nationals this spring unfamiliar (at least personally) with the majority of the new pitchers he was going to be working with in his role as the new pitching coach in D.C.
His first impressions of 32-year-old, 11-year veteran Stephen Strasburg, who’s back in Spring Training and building towards 2021 after making just two starts last season before he had to have surgery to fix an issue with carpal tunnel neuritis?
“What I see so far is extremely — just a meticulous, dedicated kind of a guy. Extremely serious,” Hickey said in a March 2nd Zoom call with reporters which followed a couple weeks of working with the pitchers he’ll oversee this season.
Strasburg, according to Hickey’s description, sounds like the normal old Strasburg we’ve all come to know since he was the first overall pick in the 2009 Draft.
“He’s in his little — he’s in his zone,” Hickey said.
“He’s constantly working at his craft and he knows exactly what he’s doing. I have never seen him before, so I would not know what ‘normal’ is, however, obviously speaking with the training staff, Davey Martinez, the other coaches, the strength and conditioning coaches, that they say yes, he’s in a really good spot right now. ‘Normal’, if you want to call it that.
“He’s responded to everything that we’ve asked him to do, and responded well, so I’m extremely happy with where he’s at, but I think the thing that’s most impressive about him is — the ‘work ethic’ is not the word — but just the whole entire package of how he goes about his business from the time he gets in the door until the time that he walks out.
“A great example for these younger guys as well.”
GM Mike Rizzo said on Monday, in advance of Strasburg’s 2021 Grapefruit League debut, that the 2019 World Series MVP was well on his way to being ready for the start of the ‘21 campaign. He didn’t get much work in last season, so the club is handling him carefully, while listening to what the pitcher has to say.
“He knows his body well,” Rizzo said of the process of getting the starter ready for the new season after he threw five innings total before he was shut down last August.
“We trust what he says to us and he’s ramped up to the point where he feels comfortable,” Rizzo added, “... and I think that like we said at the beginning of spring, it’s going to be kind of a normal prepare-for-the-season type of offseason for him, and it has been and I think you’ll see him ramp up to prepare for the opening of the season.”
“So far he looks good,” Strasburg’s manager said on Monday. “We watched him. We honed in on his mechanics, and he’s been really good.
“He works diligently on physically keeping his body going, keeping him intact, so even though the surgery was on his arm, everything else looks great.
“He worked really hard to get his legs stronger, his core stronger. So he looks really, really good.”
The plan for Strasburg going into his initial Grapefruit League outing of the spring?
“He’s going to go — he’ll do the same as the other guys. Try to get him 35 pitches, get him to the second inning, and go from there,” Martinez said in his pregame Zoom call Tuesday afternoon.
At this point in his progression, Martinez said, any concerns about the surgery are behind them.
“Honestly, you know what, after watching him, I’m looking at him as this is just a normal Spring Training for him,” the skipper said.
“He’s throwing the ball really well, and he looks really good. We’re going to go out there and keep a close eye on him for sure, just like I do with anybody else.
“I think for me he looks as normal as normal can be. So like I said, we’re going to get him out there, we’re going to build him up.
“Hopefully he can get through that first inning and send him out for the second inning.”
Strasburg’s first outing of the spring lasted 38 pitches, as he worked around a one-out walk in a scoreless, 27-pitch first, then came back out and picked up two more Ks to finish up his appearance.
“He looked good,” Strasburg’s manager said after what ended up at 4-4 tie with the Houston Astros.
“The ball was coming out pretty good. I thought he looked really good. I talked to him when he came out and he said he felt good, which is awesome.
“Now it’s just a matter of continuing to build him up.”
Did it look like the Strasburg of old to Martinez?
“I think after that first inning he looked like he kind of settled down a little bit,” Martinez said.
“He felt good after the first inning. Threw a lot more pitches than he he wanted to in two innings, but all in all, he said he felt good. He liked the way the ball was coming out.”
“I felt strong,” Strasburg said in his post game Zoom call with reporters. “And I’ve kind of done this enough times that you can’t put too much stock into it. You just kind of go out there knowing that it’s where you start.
“So there’s always going to be adjustments, and I was able to learn a lot from it.”
What did he learn?
“I learned that my fastball, fastball command is better than the last time I pitched,” he said.
“Just reading the swings it seemed like it had some life to it, which was nice, and then again it’s really just kind of fine-tuning when you want to expand the zone and what guys you want to do that on, but I think really you go out there and you try to read the swings, and I was pretty happy with the types of swings that they were taking at my pitches.”